Their titles are featured in an array of ‘greatest film’ lists, their reviews are extremely positive and they are constantly talked about. They are often hailed as masterpieces, some of the most influential and important films in history, but do they really live up to the hype?

The following list features three films that are prominent in studies, discussions and popular culture; although the hype that contributes to their success ultimately sets them up for disappointment. These films are undoubtedly well made and historically and aesthetically important, however, it appears that many critics overlook their problematic themes and plots in favour of their places in history. The following films feature varying degrees of racism, sexism and general discrimination, which makes them unfavourable in our eyes. These films have been hailed in every aspect, from story to style, and upon viewing spectators may wonder what all the fuss is about.

3. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)

Accolades: AFI’s 100 Best American Movies: #12 – Rotten Tomatoes: 98% – Preserved in the National Film Registry in 1989 – Sight & Sound Best Movies 2012 – #7

The Searchers is sometimes considered to be among John Ford’s greatest accomplishments and one of the greatest Western films ever. Although long, it is a pretty good film with great cinematography and an interesting plot; John Wayne’s niece is kidnapped by Native Americans and he vows to rescue her. However, it is problematic in its biased, discriminative portrayal of Native Americans; they are evil, ravaging animals that attack innocent families and abduct their daughters. There is no historical accuracy to these absurd actions, although such negative portrayals are nothing new.

Overall, The Searchers doesn’t really live up to its hype, Ford’s Stagecoach is shorter, snappier and features John Wayne in a more likeable and interesting role as a good fugitive.

2. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

Accolades: Sight & Sound’s Best Movies 2012: #1 – Rotten Tomatoes: 98% – Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time: #2 – Preserved in the National Film Registry in 1989

Vertigo is about a detective whose vertigo and fear of heights has forced him into retirement, he is hired to follow an acquaintance’s wife, because she believes that she is being haunted. In the meantime, he falls in love with her and borders on obsession.

The film’s accolades are exceptional… but absurd. How this exhaustingly long, silly and sexist film was named the greatest movie of all time, we have no idea. While it is a smart thriller, and is interesting and gripping at the start, it spirals off into a campy mess, featuring some of the most misogynistic scenes in cinema.

It’s not an awful film, and James Stewart is always a delight, but its accolades are unbelievable. Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho are great examples of his skill.

1. Birth of a Nation (1915, D.W Griffith)

Accolades: AFI’s 100 Best American Movies: #44 – Rotten Tomatoes: 100% – Preserved in the National Film Registry in 1992

Credited as the first blockbuster, and the most advanced film of its time; D.W Griffith’s silent epic centres around two families in Civil War era America. However, it is blatantly racist, with its negative portrayal of African-Americans and positive, heroic depictions of the Ku Klux Klan as groups of white actors in blackface attack and terrorise the innocent white victims.

Clearly, the historical and aesthetic significance of these films prevail over their problematic themes, and they are so well received and admired when there are much better stories out there.

Does discrimination in films influence your feelings about them?

References: Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia

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